The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) recognizes January as National Birth Defects Awareness Month. It raises awareness about birth defects and highlights the efforts made to improve the health of individuals affected by these conditions across their lifespans.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that birth defects occur in about 1 in every 33 infants born in the United States each year. A birth defect is a structural change that affects one or more parts of the body. Most often they develop during the first three months of pregnancy, when the baby’s organs are forming and can lead to problems in overall health, or how the body develops and functions. While not all birth defects can be prevented, individuals can take steps to reduce their risk of having an infant born with a birth defect by staying healthy and creating healthy habits before and during their pregnancy.
The CDC recommends the following to commit to healthy choices to help prevent birth defects:
Women should get 400 micrograms (MCG) of folic acid every day during pregnancy. Folic acid is a B vitamin that comes from fortified foods or supplements or a combination of the two. Examples include asparagus, navy beans, kale, spinach, beef or chicken liver, orange juice, broccoli, avocado, peanuts, and cantaloupe.
Attend regular healthcare professional appointments. Consulting a doctor while planning for a pregnancy and starting prenatal care as soon as possible actively helps to plan ahead. Using a checklist can help with the creation and accountability of goals whether it is for planning a pregnancy or trying to get and stay healthy overall.
Avoid harmful substances. Avoid drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes, or using marijuana and other drugs during pregnancy. All of these substances cause dangers to the developing baby and can cause birth defects such as preterm, low birth weight, and lifelong physical, behavioral, intellectual, or developmental disabilities.
Preventing and treating infections and fever promptly is also important in terms of keeping the body healthy for the developing baby. Getting all recommended vaccinations, and reducing contact with saliva and other bodily fluids from other babies or young children to lessen the risk of infection with cytomegalovirus (CMV). CMV can cause birth defects and other health problems if passed to a developing baby.
Choosing an overall healthy lifestyle has an important impact on the health of the pregnancy. Some factors to focus on are nutrition, physical activity, stress relief, checking in with a doctor, and quality of sleep. All of these factors are important when it comes to overall health as well as health during pregnancy for both the mother and the developing baby. Highlighting prevention tips and recommendations is an important way to spread awareness by sparking actions and conversations in local communities across Nebraska to support successful pregnancies. Click here for more information.